Set aside to protect the endangered Mountain Zebra, the Mountain Zebra National Park in the Eastern Cape is home to a variety of wildlife and spectacular scenery.
My first experience of the Mountain Zebra National Park was more than 25 years ago when I spent three days in the rest camp with some friends. It was more of a bachelors' getaway than a visit to a game park. What has stayed in my mind from that visit however is the scenery of the area - of Karoo plains framed by Karoo hills which create an intoxicating mixture.
My most recent visit was a two day stay in the park and the scenery seemed more dramatic than all those years ago. Spending the better part of one morning driving the Rooiplaat Route we saw Springbok, Wildebeest, Blesbok and Mountain Zebra in numbers.
At one point we watched as a number of animals began to react as if a predator was in the area. Watching them staring and snorting, stamping their hooves and snorting some more I could not think what they were reacting to as there were no predators in the park. Or so I thought! Later back in camp I was reading the park literature where I saw that Cheetah had been reintroduced the year before.
From certain viewpoints in the Mountain Zebra National Park you can look across the wide and seemingly endless plains of the Great Karoo and marvel at the space before you.
The park gets its name from the aforementioned Mountain Zebra, a species that faced extinction in the early parts of the last century. An attempt at proclaiming a park to save the species was at first met with ridicule in the South African parliament when one of the cabinet ministers asked 'why must we set aside land for donkeys in football jerseys.'
Sanity eventually prevailed and the Mountain Zebra National Park was proclaimed. From less than fifty individuals the population is now stable enough to allow for translocation to other parks in the country.
During my last stay in Mountain Zebra Park we were treated to one of the most incredible thunder storms I have ever seen. The sunset had emblazoned the sky in dark colours of orange and as the light was dimming the sky was lit by bolts of lightning, with the thunder reverberating through the valley. We had just finished our braai when the first rain began to fall. The storm continued for the better part of an hour.
The next morning the earth was scented with the rejuvenation of the storm. The birdsong seemed clearer and the vegetation was brighter. We spent the day exploring other parts of the park before turning in early and listening to the sounds of the Karoo night. I drifted off to sleep with the mournfully beautiful sound of the fiery-necked nightjar outside our chalet.
The Mountain Zebra National Park protects far more than the 'donkeys in football jerseys'. The park is home to a number of species including Black Rhino, Buffalo and Cheetah. Scenically spectacular, the park epitomises the landscapes of the Karroo and from certain points in the park the vast open spaces of the Karroo can be admired and appreciated.